On Monday, twelve Pacific Rim countries in negotiations reached agreement on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which seeks, among other things, to eliminate thousands of tariffs and set uniform standards for worker rights and environmental protection. Some environmental activist groups that were previously critical of the agreement have praised the final version’s language regarding environmental protections. However, these same activists have warned that the TPP’s conservation goals will only be reached if enforcement mechanisms are actively used by member states to ensure compliance.
In addition to environmental protections, the White House published a factsheet that states the TPP will require signatories to protect worker rights, including the right to form and join unions, bargain collectively, abolish child and forced labor, and set minimum wages. However, it remains unclear how the TPP will bind signatories to these commitments, or whether these commitments will actually help eradicate child and forced labor in participating countries, where child and force labor is already illegal.
Enforcement of uniform labor standards across all signatory countries will be critical in effecting positive change for workers. It is conceivable that signatory countries will adopt these standards as law, but still fail to enforce them, thereby doing little to improve worker rights. Additionally, there is no known mechanism that compels signatory governments to enforce provisions that set labor standards, and various capacity limitations in countries like Vietnam diminish the prospect of effective enforcement of these standards. Among the countries included in the TPP negotiations, Brunei, Malaysia, and Vietnam have at least one High or Severe risk rating for child labor, working conditions, or other human rights risk areas.